What a day. It is something about the beginning of the year that really makes the Pirates play some good (at least offensively) baseball and get wins. As you probably know I was at Wrigley Field today and it was an absolute blast as far as the results go. Watching the Pirates beat the Cubs after a good number of their “fans” booed and mocked me on the way inside just made my entire day.
I heard a lot of “Pirates suck” which was both unique and funny coming from a team that is obviously so talented that they are winning championships every other year. Oh, wait. To be honest I mostly laughed off most of it, because lets be serious, what am I going to say? I guess I just actually found it enjoyable that somebody was recognizing me as a Pirates fan and thought enough of me to talk some smack to. The best exchange of the day came right before I walked into the stadium. I walked past a group of five or six Cubs fans who were probably 27 or so and they started being more than playful with their smack talk. Fine. They said we sucked and I asked when was the last time they won a championship, and before they could even ask I said 1908. Their clever response was “when was the last time you won a championship?” Um, 1979 buddy nice try. He responds with “well you are in my city” as if that makes 1908 come after 1979. Give me a break. I laughed and walked away.
Honestly though, besides those guys and a few others that must have had a horrible day there were some really nice people. After getting some terrible directions a couple was nice enough to give me directions and offer to share a cab with me to the stadium (walked most of the way from the train). Others asked if I was from Pittsburgh and after saying I was originally from there they said that I was a real Pirate fan and shook my hand. Most people were nice to give a sincere funny jab, but that was it and I can really appreciate that. Actually during the ninth inning a little six year old kid turned around and saw I had a Pirates jersey on and actually stuck his tongue out at me. It was really funny and I told the kid that when he grew up he could be a Pirates fan. He then told me his little league team was the Pirates colors and I told him he was on the right track. All in good fun and I really appreciated that.
On to the game, and I just have some general thoughts and some pictures that I was able to download while I am back at the hotel:
-First off, it was bitterly cold at the game. I was under cover in the 500 section, but the win was, at times, unbearable. I was a college baseball player and I know what it is like to play in these sorts of conditions and it is no fun at all. I honestly have no idea why MLB has games start in these kinds of regions. Why not have everyone start out west or down south or in a dome. I know it would really make it a little harder for scheduling, but if you are going to play in the first week of April at least make it in somewhat good conditions.
-This was a really nice win for the Pirates to be honest. Sure it wasn’t pretty but I am pretty sure that what they did was something I talked about in my preseason preview. The hitters are going to score some runs, the defense isn’t going to be great and the pitchers just need to do enough to give the team a chance to win. Nobody going out to try and be superstars, but just guys knowing their roles and what they are capable of and going out and getting the job done. Sure it is only the first game of the year and everyone is all geeked up for it, but it was nice to see the team play like that early.
-Pedro Alvarez probably had one of his worst days as a professional. He only struck out once (which you might think would be a good day for him) but he was terrible in the field and didn’t swing the bat particularly well at all. In the first inning he botched two plays that led to the Cubs first run (one fielding and one throwing) and then later in the game he didn’t come close to catching two pop ups in the infield grass that were his. You can’t do that. Unacceptable. I said before, the wind was bad, and it did affect a good number of balls (if you watched there were numerous times outfielders looked like they misjudged balls, but that was really how bad the wind was) but those are plays Pedro needs to make 100% of the time. The first was an infield pop with a runner on first, so he got the force out at second but the second one was late in the game with nobody on and gave it a hit. Didn’t go down in the book as an error, but it should have. At the plate he really wasn’t comfortable. Way out front on some pitched and seemed uneasy. It is early so that really doesn’t concern me.
-As bad as Pedro was, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen were that great. You want to talk about the core you just look at what these guys did today. McCutchen came up in the first after two quick outs and blistered a ball into the left center field gap for a double. Some Cubs fans just were gushing over his speed and ability. Cutch then drove a ball out in the top of the seventh inning to give the Pirates so much needed cushion. Neil Walker had the hit of the game for the Pirates. Grand Slam in the fifth inning on a full count pitch. Not just a home run, a monster shot. Over the right field bleachers and onto the road. As soon as it went off the bat I knew it was gone and Wrigley Field was stunned.
-The Pirates were not very effective early with the bats but when it came down to it they were perfect through the middle innings. Pat from WHYGAVS said it perfectly in a tweet (which I don’t have the time to look for) but he said that you could tell Ryan Dempster was getting tired and didn’t have his best stuff and the Pirates made him pay. Ryan Doumit, Ronny Cedeno, Jose Tabata all walked (I believe) to load the bases with two outs and Walker made the magic happen. They knew Dempster was getting tired and a little erratic so they recognized they needed to be patient and took some pitches, drew walks and it paid off. That is what good hitting teams do, make the pitcher pay when he makes those mistakes. All told the Pirates drew seven walks on the day to go along with seven hits. I will take that every day of the week. Top of the lineup (Tabata, Walker, McCutchen) went 5-fo-12 with three walks and only one strikeout. Can’t ask for much more than that.
-Ryan Doumit quietly had a nice day. He threw out a base runner by like 3 feet. Let me say that again. He threw out a base runner. He also went 1-for-3 with a walk. Can’t ask for much more than that. He did a very nice job with balls in the dirt and seemed to have the pitching staff under control. Very nice job.
-Kevin Correia was good today. That is what he needed to be. There were some rough patches early but he really battled hard and focused on one batter at a time. It would have been very easy for him to let the errors and such get to his head and try to over pitch, but he didn’t do that at all. Very calm and forced the Cubs to hit more ground balls than fly balls (8-6). When he was in a jam he held the fort only giving up one run in the first and third when the flood gates really could have opened. His final line will not jump off the page (6+ IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO) but he gave the team a chance to win. Very nice first start.
Overall an nice win for the team. Below are some pictures I have from the game today. I was up in the 500 section so they aren’t great, but they are better than nothing.
First pitch of the 2011 Season
Walking around before the game, got this shot
The Pirates after they are introduced
An bunch of American flags stiched together for the anthem
Managers meeting before the game
Late game shot. I think this was like the eighth or ninth inning
Looking out the first base side of Wrigley for the skyline